Published: A Footnote to Folly: Reminiscences of Mary Heaton Vorse, Farrar & Rhinehart, 1935.
Transcribed: for marxists.org in January, 2002.
ONE COLD afternoon in the winter of 1912 I went with Joe O'Brien to meet the children of the Lawrence strikers in the temporary building of the Grand Central Station. We had been finding homes for them all the past week. Waiting groups of people carried banners: "Welcome to the Strikers' Children" -- "Local 29, Ladies Garment Workers, Welcomes Lawrence."
The train didn't come; people got restless. The workers began milling around. Bill Haywood had telegraphed Socialist head-quarters and the Call that the children would be in on the three o'clock Boston Express. It was after four and there had been no word from the children. Everybody was grumbling. Dolly Sloan ran around saying,
"Where's the man with the permit to parade? He's down at the Proletario office reading Salome. That's the matter with the radical movement. The man with the permit to parade is always off in the Proletario office reading Salome." By this time the police were beginning to look suspiciously at the crowds of workers with red banners. Some wit made a placard: "This Is a Free Country. Harvard Students."
A march around the station began, a red flag fluttering at its head. The placard -- "This Is a Free Country. Harvard Students" -- preceded it. There was a stir of excitement and gaiety. The police didn't know what to do. These young men might be students, after all. Better leave the red flags alone. What a laugh on them if they were to arrest Harvard crimson.
You could tell a good deal about the state of the labor movement in 1912 by looking over the waiting people. They represented dozens of locals and scores of trades. All sorts of people had come to meet the strikers' children. Socialists and anarchists, liberals and syndicalists and plain trade unionists. There were A. F. of L. locals, who, even if they disapproved of dual unionism, were looking with sympathetic eyes on the Lawrence strikers and felt that the United Textile Workers under Golden had played a shabby part in Lawrence.
There were many Socialist locals represented. There were bands of "Ypsls," youngsters from the Young People's Socialist League; delegations from the Food and Restaurant Workers, which was at that time a militant union with syndicalist leanings. There were Italian locals, people from the Needle Trades, delegations from Knit Goods Workers. Some of these had big boxes filled with red mittens, gifts from the workers to the children.
It was cold in the station. People stamped their feet. Groups of people huddled together, grumbling. It was dusk and the air up above looked blue. Shafts of light pierced through the building. One looked out on trains puffing in and out through an intricate forest of pillars.
At last Joe O'Brien and I went for a cup of coffee. When we got back the children had come. They had not only come, but they had gone, and we had missed them; but we followed them by the bright red mittens they had lost and left behind on the sleety pavements. The spots of red guided us like the stones of Hop-O'-My-Thumb. Here was a mitten on a snow pile, and here was another by the Third Avenue el, and another higher up the steps. The children were one train ahead of us. A red mitten flagged us on the uptown station where they had got out to go to a dinner prepared for them by the Hotel and Restaurant Workers. We caught up with them there.
The children were already at the tables. The air was full of the noises of a hundred young voices. Black-eyed Italian children, French Canadian children, Syrian children, blond-haired children from the Baltic States. How they chattered. How they ate. They had never had a meal like this, topped off with ice cream and cake and fruit, nuts and raisins.
Meanwhile their friends crowded around, workers helping other workers. A sudden flame of sympathy had brought unity to different groups. The New York workers were standing solidly behind the Lawrence strikers, and for proof of it these children, whose homes could no longer support them properly, through the long weeks of the strike were being looked after and cared for by other workers.
As for the children, they were off on a great adventure, and their account of this adventure in the letters they were going to write home was to be one of the high spots of the strike, one of the ways that the workers' courage was kept aflame.
The strike had broken out not long before. Twenty thousand textile workers in Lawrence had walked out against a wage cut. It was a sudden, unplanned uprising. A fifty-four-hour week for women and children had been put into effect in Massachusetts, and the textile industry employed so many women and children that it meant a fifty-four-hour week for everyone. Consequently, there was a wage cut. It was a small cut, but it meant "four loaves of bread" to the workers.
There was almost no organization. There were less than three hundred scattered workers in the I.W.W., with another two hundred and fifty or thereabouts organized under the United Textile Workers, who belonged to the higher paid crafts such as weavers and loom fixers.
Wages in Lawrence were so low that thirty-five per cent of the people made under seven dollars a week; less than a fifth got more than twelve dollars a week. They were divided by nationality. They spoke over forty languages and dialects, but they were united by meager living and the fact that their children died. For every five children under one year of age, one died. For children under five years of age, the death rate was 176 in a thousand. Only a few other towns in America had higher death rates. These were all mill towns.
Practically all New England had grown rich on the products of textile mills, in which profits as great as those of the Pacific Mills were common. The Pacific Mills had been capitalized for only two million dollars in the beginning. The company had paid twelve per cent dividends as regularly as sunrise. In addition, it had paid thirty-four per cent in extra dividends between 1905 and 1912, and had a six million-dollar surplus over and above what it had written off against a sinking fund and depreciation. The gains of the other mills were similar.
Meantime, the labor costs were falling. Much more cloth per worker was being made, and the speed-up, which caused the out breaks in the South in 1929, was already "tentatively put into effect" by the American Woolen Company.
It was against such conditions that this spontaneous strike occurred. The workers streamed out the gates of one after another of the long mills, each moated by its canal. Strike demands were swiftly formulated:
Double pay for overtime
Abolition of the bonus and premium system
No discrimination because of strike activity.
A week after the first group of the children of the Lawrence strikers arrived in New York, news was flashed that another group, being sent to Philadelphia, had been prevented from leaving town by the Lawrence police. There had been a riot at the railway station. Mothers had been clubbed and arrested. Children were actually separated from their parents and sent to the poorhouse. It was one of those senseless exhibitions of police violence common to the labor movement. A roar of indignation came from the workers of America.
I read the papers that morning and made up my mind I'd find out what was behind the keeping back of the children. In those days I was writing about the theater; I had a commission from the Metropolitan Magazine to write about the reunion of Weber and Fields. I had got to know Lou Weber and Joe Fields, Lillian Russell and Marie Tempest and all the rest of that distinguished cast. The strike deflected me violently from the world of the theater. As I read that the children had not been allowed to leave Lawrence, I thought to myself, "Before night someone is going to send me to Lawrence."
Harper's Weekly sent me, and my inadequate little article lost them the advertisement of the American Woolen Company. After that, when I'd go off to report something, Thomas Wells, the editor of Harper's, would call after me in a deep bellow, "Don't lose too much advertising!" Joe O'Brien got an assignment too, and we took the midnight for Lawrence. No one ever went more lightmindedly as well as lightheartedly toward a serious destination than I.
It was not yet full daylight when we got to Lawrence. The street lamps still threw circles of pale light on the snow. The streets were empty of people. We walked down to the ramparts of the mills and stood a moment uncertain. A soldier with his gun and bayonet over his shoulder said with the embarrassed harshness of a fellow who isn't used to this sort of thing: "Move on, move on, keep moving."
We stared at him, surprised. He stared back and looked away.
Down the street were more soldiers pacing back and forth. All the mills were guarded with troops. Young boys patrolling high brick walls with guns over their shoulders. We looked at each other and we did not speak, but walked on down the cold, pale street, which was so unnaturally quiet and which looked so menacing with the young, armed uniformed soldiers walking up and down.
It was the first time I'd seen a town where the troops had been called out against the workers; and suddenly Lawrence, a familiar New England town, seemed strange and alien.
We walked along rapidly, always through empty streets, one or two people scurrying furtively past. Everywhere stood the uniformed boys with their guns guarding streets, guarding mills. High brick walls and guns. We paused a moment to look at a street sign and a boy again told us to move on. All the force of the state was turned against the workers. We walked down one street, turned to the left and passed other mills, then back to the hotel. There were more people in the street now and the street lights were out. We got breakfast, not talking much, for our familiar New England world had become strange and sinister.
From the beginning the workers were determined, but there was so little actual violence that the government report of the strike, prepared for the Department of Labor, stated that "Few strikes involving so large a number of employees . . . have continued so long with so little actual violence or riot."
Yet all New England was appalled by Lawrence. It was a new kind of strike. There had never been mass picketing in any New England textile town. Ten thousand workers paraded. They stoned mills and broke windows and, almost storming a factory to bring the workers out, were kept back only by streams of icy water from the fire hose.
It was the spirit of the workers that seemed dangerous. They were confident, gay, released, and they sang. They were always marching and singing. The gray tired crowds ebbing and flowing perpetually into the mills had waked and opened their mouths to sing, the different nationalities all speaking one language when they sang together.
"Revolution!" screamed the conservative press.
Three young I.W.W. organizers appeared on the scene. They were all in their early twenties. Their names were Caruso, Joe Ettor, and Arturo Giovannitti. They were young, idealistic and of magnetic personality. Joe Ettor was one of the best organizers I ever knew. He had a sense, amounting to genius, of the movement when a strike may be settled. When he talked, he glowed like a beacon light. Yet his energy and his vitality were restrained by his solid Latin good sense. He never made windy speeches. He said things to the workers like this: "For a strike to be peaceful, for a strike to be successful, there must be solitarity in the ranks of the strikers. Division is the surest means to violence; violence necessarily means the loss of the strike. You can hope for no success on any policy of violence....
"Remember the property of the bosses is protected first by the police, then the militia. If these are not sufficient, by an entire army. Remember you, too, are also armed -- " he paused and smiled -- "armed with your labor power which you can withhold and stop production. Provoking violence will serve as a pretext to start a blood bath in which the workers' blood will be spilled."
One day a shot was fired and a glancing bullet killed a woman striker, Annie Lo Pizzo. No one, to this day, knows whether the bullet was fired by a policeman or by a worker, though it was of the same caliber as those the police carried.
Immediately, Caruso, Joe Ettor and Arturo Giovannitti were arrested for murder as "accessory before the fact." It was a familiar enough trick, in a strike, to arrest the leaders, in spite of the fact that they had not been anywhere near the place where the shooting occurred and that they had preached against violence. But Ettor and Giovannitti were kept in a cage for a year before they were finally pronounced not guilty. It was after the shooting that the troops were called out, the town placed under martial law and all public meetings and assemblies forbidden. This was the situation we found in Lawrence that cold February morning.
Strike headquarters was in the Franco-Belgian Hall, a big shedlike building outside the city limits. A huge one-eyed man was half-sitting on the table near the platform talking to the reporters. It was Big Bill Haywood. He would have been anywhere a marked person. He could not heave himself through any crowd without people turning to look at him. He had the look which some notable men of his generation had in America: combined wisdom, shrewdness and power, a peculiarly American look. Clarence Darrow had such a look. Debs had it.
In the back of the hall was the commissary, shelves with canned goods, flour, beans and rice. More strikers were arriving every moment. An Italian woman was saying: "I gotta see Bigga Bill!"
"You can't see him now. He's talking to reporters."
"I gotta see Bigga Bill! Gotta see him now!"
Haywood called out: "Who is it wants to see me? Of course, you can see me! You come right up here." He turned to the too-zealous young man and said gently: "Brother, there's no time I can't see fellow workers." So the reporters waited while this woman made some complaint that had to do with groceries.
Haywood always had time to hear the complaints of even the most obscure strikers. The labor movement to him wasn't a vast faceless mass. He visualized the individual woman standing behind the loom. When he talked about the children shucking oysters or peeling shrimps, he made you see actual children, hands wrinkled with water and painful with salt-water sores. He made all of the working class of America see Lawrence textile workers through the Lawrence children.
Haywood spoke briefly. Workers spoke briefly. There were reports of relief committees, and Archie Adamson, a young Englishman, read aloud the children's letters, letters that made you laugh and cry. Ed Reilly, the witty Irishman, spoke.
When Elizabeth Gurley Flynn spoke, the excitement of the crowd became a visible thing. She stood there, young, with her Irish blue eyes, her face magnolia white and her cloud of black hair, the picture of a youthful revolutionary girl leader. She stirred them, lifted them up in her appeal for solidarity. Then at the end of the meeting, they sang. It was though a spurt of flame had gone through this audience, something stirring and powerful, a feeling which has made the liberation of people possible; something beautiful and strong had swept through the people and welded them together, singing.
The strike meeting was over, and we went into town with Haywood. We found out quickly enough who had kept the second group of Lawrence children from being sent to Philadelphia. Father Reilly, a priest of the largest parish, hated workers' children being sent into Socialist households, so he instigated Colonel Sweetser, the commanding officer of the militia, to stop them as they were leaving. It had all been done so very suddenly and with such unnecessary brutality that not only were the workers aroused, but the liberal press of the country was indignant.
We sat eating our sandwiches and coffee at a lunch counter, and Haywood, Elizabeth Gurley Flynn and Carlo Tresca told us about the conduct of the strike. There was a committee of fifty-six and an alternate committee of fifty-six to take their places in case of arrest. There was a steering committee of different nationalities. I remember to this day, Bedard, who was chairman, Archie Adamson, Giannini and the witty Ed Reilly. It was Ed Reilly who said to Elizabeth Gurley Flynn, "Elizabeth, me toe is bruk on me."
"What's the matter with your toe, Ed ?"
"I've been assistin' at a spontanyus uprisin' of the people. I've been kicking the Wops an' Hunkies in my room in the pa-ants an' they spontanyously arose an' went out o' th' factory.
"The strike is run so democratically, so much by the workers themselves," Haywood said, "that no matter who was arrested, it'd go on. You see, even when Ettor and Giovannitti were arrested, it only strengthened the strike."
He told about the committee of women who had come to him and begged him to let them go on the picket line, since guards beat up the men. Later, when we went down the street, a striker came along and with him a tall farmer with piercing blue eyes, an old man. The worker was an undersized Jewish boy.
"He's looking for Big Bill," the boy said. The farmer and Haywood shook hands. The farmer was full of indignation.
"I been reading about this strike," he said, "and I came one hundred twenty miles because I don't think these folks know their constitutional rights. I read in the papers they're most of them foreigners and they ain't done a thing, yet they had their rights of free speech and free assembly taken away from 'em, so I came down from my hilltop to read aloud the Declaration of Independence on the Common of this town, and I thought maybe you could call the workers together to hear me read it."
Haywood said gently, "Brother, if we called the workers together, they'd only be arrested and beaten up."
"You mean to tell me that I can't read the Declaration of Independence on a Common in my own state to working folks?"
Haywood answered, "I don't advise you to. You might get arrested."
"Well," said the old fellow, "I got high blood pressure and I'm pretty old and I don't know a cause I'd better like to die in than teaching folks their rights, so if this lad will show me the Common, I'm a going to read the Bill o' Rights." So off he went, tenderly guided by the undersized Jewish striker. We never knew what became of him. But it seemed to us that the old Revolutionary feeling of America had come down to Lawrence to confer with the new.
That afternoon I went around visiting with one of the strike relief investigators. We passed suddenly from a well-ordered New England town with its wide Common bordered by fine elms, where there were churches with steeples that might have been designed by Christopher Wren, fine residences, dignified public buildings and libraries, to squalor that no slum in a large city could equal. The city slum had, at least, color and life. Life roared through city streets. Here, in these back alleys of Lawrence, was gray stagnation. Large houses were built in back yards, completely shutting out light. The congestion was so great that 33,700 persons were concentrated on three hundred acres. A third of the population was living on a thirteenth of the area of the city.
We went through yards littered with rubbish, up stairs foul with the smell of bad toilets, into a sunless flat, whose floor was covered with boarders' mattresses. The grandfather, father and mother and children were crowded into one room. Here life had got to so low an ebb that even the poor little calendar, a-flower-growing-in-a-tin attempts at adornment that were common among the steel workers and in the mining districts, were absent.
In this dreadful place was a beautiful, wide-faced Syrian girl who looked like someone out of the Arabian Nights. She stood gazing out the window toward the littered court and saying, and in what a tone of yearning homesickness. "How I wish we had never come away from Damascus!" and as the thought came to me of an Oriental city with its gardens and fountains and fig trees, and the swarm of colorful life through the street, as against this gray and dreadful prospect, I wondered what ill chance had brought them from the East.
Probably one of the posters that represented a handsome worker issuing from his vine-covered home. For on some walls the only adornments were the posters of the sort that were spread from the Balkans to the Baltic by American mill owners, that workers had brought from the Old Country. These posters represented neat workers' homes, with well-clad workers going to work, or workers going from the mill to the bank. Actually, there were a few such model homes, as were pictured, and they were occupied by foremen. It was the policy of the big companies to keep what was called "a fringe of labor" so that the labor supply would always be too great and therefore could be cheap. Men competed for children's jobs in Lawrence.
People who have never seen an industrial struggle think of a strike as a time of turmoil, disorder and riot. Nothing could be less true. A good strike is a college for the workers. When the workers listen to the speeches they are going to school. Their minds are being opened. They are learning history and economics translated into the terms of their own lives. Many of them suddenly find hitherto unsuspected powers. Men and women, until now dumb, get up on platforms and speak with fire and with the eloquence of sincerity to their fellow workers. Others write articles leaflets. New forms of demonstration are invented, and the workers set off singing the songs they themselves have made up under the pressure of the strike. Like new blood these new talents flow through the masses of the workers.
Lawrence was a singing strike. The workers sang everywhere: at the picket line, at the soup kitchens, at the relief stations, at the strike meetings. Always there was singing.
In many different places over the United States, workers' songs have been written and sung. Many of them are anonymous. Other song writers stand out, like Ella May Wiggins of Gastonia, who was shot and killed during the strike in 1929, and Aunt Molly Jackson of Kentucky, whose songs will be sung as long as there are miners.
In Lawrence the excitement of achievement was everywhere. We found that men and women who until yesterday had known only the routine of the mill had worked out large-sized organizational jobs in the commissary, organizing relief, collecting and distributing food, running their own finances. The Lawrence strike had six stores and seven soup kitchens and maintained a large force of relief workers. The workers organized their mass demonstrations and mass amusements, huge picnics and concerts.
Over all, and including all the strike activities, was the sense that the other workers were with them. Most workers, especially the unorganized, lived isolated lives, spent between the job in the factory and a tenement home and the saloon. They knew only the people in their own department in the mill. Suddenly, in strike time, the working force became a unit. Workers realized that the mill was like a single person. Not only that, but the workers in all the many different mills, who had never known each other, who at most had seen each other's faces hurrying past on the street, now, under strike conditions, were united. All at once they were living, marching, singing, listening to one mighty rhythm, the workers' solidarity. Their mass feeling had magnified their powers and lifted them above isolation and poverty.
Not only were the workers united, but there was no moment of the strike when the workers were not conscious of the other workers throughout the country, whose eyes were fixed on their struggle. Strike funds arrived daily from other unions in the industry and other sympathetic unions. Delegations of workers came to visit. Speakers came, and for a moment in Lawrence speakers, visitors, spectators, strikers, leaders were outside themselves, swept up out of their small personal existences into the larger and august flow of the strike.
There at Lawrence it seemed sometimes as though the forces of Light and of Darkness were visibly divided. On one side the workers, simple, kind and transformed with the faith that the realization of solidarity gave them; on the other, the greed of the employers, who roused up gangs against the workers and who paid to have dynamite planted for the purpose of blackening the workers' cause.
No one could see these singing, disciplined people without being moved by them. A spiritual quality that was felt by everyone showed itself at the strike meetings. Ray Stannard Baker said, "It had a peculiar, tense, vital spirit that I never saw before in a strike."
Something very good was being evolved here. People were thinking in unison. People were acting in unison. Marching together, singing together. Harmony, not disorder, was being established, yet it was a collective harmony. A meeting like this was the antithesis of mob; people coming together to build and create instead of to hate and destroy. What we saw in Lawrence affected us so profoundly that this moment of time in Lawrence changed life for us.
Both Joe O'Brien and I had come a long road to get to Lawrence. It was for us our point of intersection. Together we experienced the realization of the human cost of our industrial life. Something transforming had happened to both of us. We knew now where we belonged -- on the side of the workers and not with the comfortable people among whom we were born. We knew, although at the time our personal lives seemed incidental, that we wanted to go on together and work together.
Some synthesis had taken place between my life and that of the workers, some peculiar change which would never again permit me to look with indifference on the fact that riches for the few were made by the misery of the many.
It was in Lawrence that we realized what we must do, that we could make one contribution -- that of writing the workers' story -- as long as we lived. We did not work this all out immediately, but a great and important change in the motivation of our lives had occurred.
We realized, too, that all the laws made for the betterment of workers' lives have their origin with the workers. Hours are shortened, wages go up, conditions are better -- only if the workers protest. We wanted to work with them and write about them. We wanted to break through the silence and isolation which surrounded the workers' lives until everyone understood the conditions under which cloth was made, as we had been made aware.
I have tried to account for what happened to us both in Lawrence. The sense of indignation which we shared was not the whole story. It was far more complex than that. It was seeing of what beauty human beings are capable. Here in Lawrence was the flame; that surging forward toward the light which is the distinction of mankind.
That striving for light appears in many different forms. It has demanded religious freedom, freedom of scientific thought, political freedom. In our generation it is striving toward economic justice. It is this that sings our songs, makes the art and discoveries of a race and shakes off age-old tyrannies.
The flame ebbs; it fluctuates. It never goes out. It appears now in a Steinmetz or an Einstein. Now in the spontaneous uprising of the textile workers in Lawrence, now in the great paintings of Rivera and Orozco. In this flame resides the genius of a people.
It is this flame that leads forlorn hopes, that wins victories against incredible odds--faith, courage and beauty are its texture. When people are gathered together, when the individual is forgotten for the collective good, there is this quickening. Suddenly the aspirations of once anonymous lonely people who have come together form the flame.
We felt this more strongly every day we were in Lawrence and as we began to know the individuals in the strike. We would go with Haywood and Elizabeth Gurley Flynn and Tresca to an Italian dinner at Rosa Cardello's. Haywood and the other organizers bought the spaghetti and salad and Rosa prepared it. At that time Haywood ate as often as possible in the workers' homes because mobs of hoodlums prowled the streets to "get" him. Always behind him went an Italian bodyguard. His self-constituted guards even slept in his room. Hoodlum gangs always shadowing the leaders were forerunners of the Committees of a Hundred who wrecked the workers' strike headquarters in Gastonia and Charlotte, or the Citizens' Committees who have attacked the workers in California, or the Vigilantes who have attacked agricultural workers' unions in Ohio and New Jersey.
The gangster fights which have become a feature of certain city strikes, notably in the needle and building trades, were completely absent in Lawrence. It was an innocent strike, yet it had an explosive quality. A peculiar rhythm was evolved here. The excitement which streamed from the men and women and children was heard from one end of the country to the other.
When we went home Italian guards walked with us. They wouldn't let us go home alone. Whenever we went around at night there were always Italian boys following us. We got to know not only Italians, but Slovaks, Greeks and Syrians.
In the Syrian quarter, a young Syrian named John Ramey had gone out one morning to go to the store for his mother. He was merely a boy who stayed home, not an active striker. I don't think he had ever been on a picket line. He got in with a group of strikers who were going down the street. The militia told them to move on. A quarter of an hour after John Ramey went out he came back with a wound through his back where he had been prodded with a bayonet. He died that night. Nothing was ever done about it. No one was ever convicted or even brought to trial, but it made the Syrians very bitter.
One snowy night a number of us were having dinner in a Syrian restaurant. I had been up to see Ramey's mother, who was glad to tell the story to reporters. Haywood was there and Elizabeth Gurley Flynn, William Allen White, the Fremont Olders, Gertrude Marvin and some other reporters. The proprietor would not let us pay for our dinner, would only accept some money for strike funds.
A militiaman walked up and down provocatively in front of our quiet restaurant. There was no reason why this quiet place should have been patrolled. We were leaving, with only the small delays that a rather large party causes, when the militiaman told us roughly to "Keep on moving!" One of our party remonstrated with him and asked what we were doing. We were "congregating," he said.
"Come on, come on," Haywood said hastily. "For God's sake, get out of here, don't give back talk to the guard." We looked back. The Syrian restaurant keeper stood a short way behind our group, a long knife in his hand. We hurried off in silence.
Time after time the anger of the people would boil up, but in some way Haywood and the other leaders would manage to calm them and to keep them disciplined.
Joe O'Brien came from the South and had a Southerner's instinct toward direct action. He suggested that Haywood retaliate. Haywood put his hand on Joe's shoulder.
"My boy," he said, "you can't exchange brickbats for bullets. You can't exchange bullets for machine guns. The most violent thing a striker can do is to put his hands in his pockets and keep them there."
The fire of the strike was like a beacon light. People of all sorts streamed through Lawrence. Lincoln Steffens, Fremont Older, William Allen White, Richard Washburn Child, Ray Stannard Baker, were only a few of the people who came to write about it. A peculiar fusion occurred among those who met here. Lifelong friendships began at the Lawrence strike. Vida Scudder spoke to the workers and made her famous speech in which she said: "I would rather never again wear a thread of woolen than know my garments had been woven at the cost of such misery as I have seen and known past the shadow of a doubt to have existed in this town . . . . If the wages are of necessity below the standard to maintain man and woman in decency and in health, then the woolen industry has not a present right to exist in Massachusetts."
The papers suppressed her speech or printed only garbled accounts. People demanded that she be dismissed from Wellesley for these revolutionary utterances. Yet in the workers' press the speech rang from one end of the country to the other. It stirred the torpid social conscience of Massachusetts.
Ray Stannard Baker prophesied that the Socialist party might yet become the great conservative party of this country, as a bulwark, of course, against a revolutionary movement like that of the I.W.W. He found some of the mill masters in Lawrence "almost shivering with the astonishingly new idea that it might be a good policy to tie up with the trade union movement in order to fight the encroachments of this new and revolutionary industrial unionism."
Of all the outsiders, the most interesting to me was a woman doctor. She had come down to Lawrence in the beginning of the strike and decided to move her practice there. She had made a study of the tubercular curve of children who had worked in the mills from the age of fourteen to twenty-four and had compared it with the tubercular curve of all Massachusetts children of the same age. There was a shocking difference.
Lawrence children's tubercular curve mounted in a straight line. There were hundreds of victims every year and, she added, from largely preventable causes. She said that she was very lonely in Lawrence because none of the people of her own kind would have anything to do with her. She was a pariah because she had identified herself with the workers. It seemed to me that the decent people, who were like those I had lived with all my life, were indifferent only because they were ignorant of the conditions under which the Lawrence workers lived, as I had been ignorant.
If they knew the cost in lives, if they knew that one child in every five died before it was five years old, if they knew the overcrowding, if they saw that tubercular curve, they must know at last what the people were striking about; not outside agitators, but against death and privation.
Armed with this information, I did a series of interviews. I saw the principal men of the town and all the ministers and several prominent women. Not one was interested. Everyone met me with stony disapproval. The best they could say of the workers was that they were misguided people led astray by outside agitators, that they were pigs and preferred to live as they did to save money.
I did not then recognize this reaction as the inevitable reaction of the owning group protecting itself instinctively against any vital workers' movement. Twenty years later, nice women in Kentucky told me identical things about the miners.
I tried to find some of the principal stockholders. The best names in New England figured as large holders of stock, Coolidges, Amorys, Aldrichs, but not a one of them lived in Lawrence. It was entirely an absentee ownership.
Meantime the craft unions sabotaged the strike by trying to call off the strike of the crafts.
It is interesting to reflect that the syndicalist movement which made all America tremble a quarter of a century ago lives today only in shrunken form in France and Spain. History proved in Italy and in Germany that you cannot build "a new society within the shell of the old."
The Lawrence strike was making too great a commotion. Ever larger numbers of people were drawn within its circle. It affected all the workers of the country. It caused a Senate investigation. It was evident that Schedule K, the tariff on wool which was supposed to protect the workers, had done nothing for them. On the floor of the House it was said that "Bayonets and decreased wages for the workers, instead of the Workers' Paradise predicted by Aldrich, Lodge and Smoot, is the definition of Schedule K."
The strike was moreover affecting the bond issue being floated by the American Woolen Company. The women of New England who invested in textiles had been listening to the words of Vida Scudder. There was a pressure of public opinion to settle the strike with gains for the workers.
In March the strike was settled with a sliding scale of from ten per cent to five per cent; ten per cent going to those least paid. It meant sixty or seventy cents more a week in pay envelopes. The strike cost $1,125,000, according to the New York World; the militia had cost the taxpayers $125,000, but the workers' pay rolls had been raised six million dollars throughout New England and thousands of workers were affected besides the victorious Lawrence strikers.
Twenty-three years have passed since the Lawrence strike. Empires have fallen, yet the injustices in the textile industry which made that strike in Lawrence, Massachusetts, in 1912 are in broad outlines as true today as they were then, except that today we have the added horror of the speed-up.
Twenty-three years have passed and it is still true that, as Ray Stannard Baker then pointed out, "Industrially, we have arrived at the state of the Central American Republics politically -- a government of successive revolution."